Like many downtowns, Milwaukee's was suffering from the public perception that it was not a safe place to be after dark. One of the oldest sections of the city, downtown features a mix of business and residential development in a variety of architectural styles. However, it was lit with old fixtures that had not been updated for years and had outlived their usefulness. The insufficient lighting made the area seem dangerous.
When the city began a project to revitalize its downtown, officials realized that their efforts would be for naught if they failed to improve the lighting. They began looking for fixtures that would replicate those in place during the historic area's heyday. They wanted the lighting fixtures to help create an historical feel that would complement the area's architectural styles.
Thousands of Milwaukee's original lighting fixtures — called Milwaukee Harp luminaires because they resembled harps — had been installed in 1903. (They had been replaced in the 1970s with nondescript canister-type fixtures.) City officials knew that finding the Milwaukee Harp fixtures a century later could prove to be a problem.
They turned to Newark, Ohio-based Holophane, which replicated the Harp fixtures using the original design and updating it with modern optics technology. Computer-aided lighting analysis software helped determine appropriate lamp wattage, fixture distribution and light levels.
The fixtures are mounted on 15-foot octagonal steel posts and spaced 60 to 90 feet apart to maintain illumination levels of two footcandles. They feature Illuminating Engineering Society cutoff so that light trespass is not a problem.
According to Milwaukee Street Lighting Engineer Bob Rehm, the sidewalks could not support concrete bases for high poles because of utility tunnels and older building basements that extend beneath the walkways. “With the Harp fixtures, we could properly illuminate the street with the luminaires mounted on lower poles,” Rehm says. “In most instances, we were able to install the fixtures on existing bolt circles using the same wiring [as employed by the previous poles]. That significantly reduced installation costs.”
The Harp fixtures that line Wisconsin Avenue, the main street in downtown Milwaukee, feature 70- to 150-watt, high-pressure sodium lamps. New 150-watt Harp luminaires spaced 40 to 45 feet apart also surround the city's new Midwest Express Convention Center. A central electronic eye controls the fixtures, which are illuminated for about 93 hours each week.
“We like the fact that we were able to bring these historic lighting fixtures back to Milwaukee,” Rehm says. “Since the area was renovated, we have seen a significant increase in pedestrian traffic, and more businesses and[developments] are moving downtown.”